August 5, 2012

A tribute to Joe "Butterball" Tamburro and a legendary Black Radio Station WDAS

For a generation of radio listeners in Philadelphia, Joe Tamburro was known as "Butterball" on Radio 148 WDAS as part of a radio station that made a commitment to be a full service radio station for the Black community. A station with an award winning full functioning news staff that at one time featured the late Ed Bradley of CBS' 60 Minutes fame, Joe Rainey, and many others. A station that touted legendary Black radio DJ's "Jocko" (Douglas Henderson, Sr.) and Georgie Woods. A station that gave a platform to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement on a national level and tackled many injustices on a local level with NAACP president, eventual city councilman, and activist Cecil B. Moore.

As part of this tribute we've included the following airchecks [AUDIO] from Jocko and Butterball that aired  in Philadelphia over 30 years ago. The New Years Day broadcast called "Alumni Day" was heard on WDAS AM and FM in 1982. The regular format was replaced by this special broadcast that paid homage to the music and the former on-air personalities at the station. Click on any photo for a [photo gallery] from this post. There are many links in this post that we encourage you to check out, share, or bookmark for later. The rest of this tribute continues below the aircheck links...

Listen to Jocko by clicking on the following links: Part 1    Part 2       Part 3

Jocko released his own rap record in 1979 called Rhythm Talk

Listen to Butterball by clicking on the following links: 
Part 1    Part 2    Part 3

For another generation, "Butter" was the afternoon and then midday personality in the midst of a young and innovative air staff on 105.3 WDAS FM that created the young urban contemporary sound in Philadelphia after the station's foray into progressive and psychedelic rock of the late 60's and very early 70's. A station that catapulted to the top of the ratings and featured "The Morning Party" of Jerry Wells, "Beaming aboard the Starship at Midnight" with Tony Brown, along with Doug Henderson, Jr. (Jocko's son), Mimi Brown,  Dyana Williams, Wayne Joell, Gary Shepherd, and Starting the Dance with "Dr." Perri Johnson (who became an author, music therapist and a real doctor as a Clinical Psychologist).

A station that also continued the full news staff tradition of WDAS AM with E. Steven Collins (now of Radio One's WRNB and a featured contributor on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews), Karen Warrington, and Wynne Alexander. During this time period the station organized a planned small community picnic in 1978 to an overwhelming and overflowing success that grew into "Unity Day" under the leadership of then general manager Cody Anderson (now Saturday morning host on talk station WURD radio). The former annual "free" event held on a Sunday afternoon in August, was where an estimated one million Philadelphians would gather near the steps of the famous Art Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for a day of concerts in (as crazy as this may sound), a family picnic style atmosphere in the Summertime.

For even another generation, Butter was known only as the host of the Sunday Night Oldies Dance Party Live Broadcast on WDAS FM. His voice and laughter each Sunday evening will be missed. Hearing Butter was a friendly reminder each week of how great a radio station WDAS was as he spun "records" from the 60's through the 80's. The line dancers, fans of his since the 60's, worked out the old dances each Sunday night in the club and probably inside their homes as well as they listened. There's nothing like hearing Butter play something funky from James Brown. It was a good time.

Butter, was the one behind the scenes, as program director who brought back "Carter & Sanborn" to host mornings after the departure of Tom Joyner to WRNB in 2005. ...And how happy Butter must have been, this year, as he returned to the airwaves of 1480 WDAS AM, although mostly as a "voice-tracked" announcer as the afternoon personality on the station where it all began. Clear Channel flipped the station from a Spanish Language music station to a Christmas themed R&B oldies music station in December of 2011. After the holiday season it became "The Soul of Philadelphia," its current format. It's one of the most unique Oldies stations in the country that not only features Motown and the Philly sound of Gamble and Huff, but also a heavy dose of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Cooke as well. No doubt Butterball's hand print will remain on the playlist of this station for as long as the current format exists.

Undated photo from the WDAS AM and FM staff of late 70's and early 80's
Butterball on the left standing behind Georgie Woods
CLICK PHOTO for larger image

To this day WDAS FM has been and will continue to be a ratings winner in Philadelphia, even in the Arbitron PPM electronic ratings era. From month to month the station finishes in the top five and for many years it was the number one station in the city. Some may say the reason for this is because of a strong drive time program like The Steve Harvey Morning Show or a great midday host like Patty Jackson  ...Or they must play the right mix of Today's R&B and Classic Soul songs. In reality any station can play music. It's not a playlist or a radio host at all. It's been WDAS' commitment to the community that continues to find them at the top. The seeds were planted in 1950 when owner Max Leon bought the station and his son-in-law Bob Klein, as general manager (two Jewish American men by the way) adopted a programming format geared toward the "Negro" or colored community. They assembled an African American office staff and on-air staff that became committed to the civil rights movement and helped to bring about the winds of change that would sweep across America by the 1960's. They also hired an Italian American from South Philly in 1964, who wanted nothing else more than to be a disc jockey on the AM station, with the not so great signal at the end of the dial that played Rhythm & Blues music from a small building in Fairmount Park.

A few years ago, Clear Channel Radio, now the owners of WDAS, decided to end the annual "Unity Day." Making it a ticketed paid concert weekend event at Penn's Landing just didn't work. Cost and liabilility were probably major factors in the decision to move it from the Parkway and eventually end it in 2009. Which is understandable in these economic times. The company also owns Power 99 FM (WUSL) as well, a station that has also built their own community legacy with (the late Brian) Carter & Sanborn, Colby Colb, Loraine Ballard Morrill and others. However at the time when the murder rate in major cities like Philadelphia is at an all-time high, bringing the community and both stations together, in "Unity" might be a good idea.         

There have been giants in the history of radio that have had long radio careers. Syndicated news commentator, the late Paul Harvey for one, was on the air for almost 70 years. Hal Jackson, who recently passed at age 96, hosted Sunday afternoons on WBLS in New York, was first on the air in his native Washington, D.C. in the late 1930's. Chicago radio legend Herb Kent, alive and well, who began his radio career in 1944 and whose stories are a treat to listen to each Sunday and Saturday, is currently on V103 WVAZ. There's Philadelphia Gospel music personality Louise Williams, still on the air for more than 50 years. She hosts the 5:00 am to 6:30 am shift each day on 900 AM WURD. She began her career at 1340 WHAT in the late 1950's and worked the early morning shift at WDAS AM as well for many years. However there has never been a radio personality that has had a greater impact at one radio station as DJ, Program Director, and Operations Manager in the history of American radio as Butterball.

Without a doubt, in this tribute to Butter and WDAS, we have to recognize two DJ's. Georgie Woods, "The Guy with the Goods," who arguably had the greatest impact of any radio host in the history of Philly radio, inspired many having started in the 1950's. Both Butterball, Ed Bradley, and many others wanted to do nothing more as teenagers than to listen to and then maybe one day get to work with him. Georgie Woods, who has a mural in the city, recorded a regional hit record and even hosted a TV dance show in the 60's, would spend his radio career working at not only WDAS AM but WHAT AM also as a music DJ and later on as a talk show host.

Of course the impact Jocko (Douglas Henderson) had on many markets across the country, including commuting daily between New York City and Philadelphia, is immeasurable. He is generally recognized as the Godfather of Rap. He recorded his shows and would mail them out to stations in Detroit, Baltimore, and many other cities across the country. He was syndication before the technology of syndication existed. Jocko like Woods worked at both Black music AM radio stations in Philly.

If there is no other legacy that Joe Tamburro's leaves behind for the radio industry, let it be that a radio station is more that a frequency regulated by the FCC. It's more than playing the right song in each quarter hour. It's more than targeting listeners with "more music" and "less talk" or "commercial free" and "no rap" middays. Yes, it's a business but it's also about being committed to serve the listeners and making a difference in the community. For the African American community in Philadelphia, it's making a radio station feel like family, no matter what color you are. How appropriate for the town known as the City of Brotherly Love. -

A funeral mass was held Thursday August 2, 2012 for legendary Philadelphia radio personality Joe "Butterball" Tamburro. The pews were filled at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. WDAS, where Tamburro worked for decades, devoted last weekend to remembering the broadcast and civil rights pioneer. Tamburro helped the careers of many R&B artists. He also contributed to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Tamburro died Friday (July 27, 2012) after suffering heart-related problems. He was 70-years-old.


  1. A great tribute to Butter. The Sunday night oldies on WDAS is not the same without him.

  2. 'DAS & "Butter's" memory will always be a love in Philly's radio heart.


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